When you lift a newborn in your arms for the first time, and it begins to cry, you may cry along with it. It’s like a shared Weltgeist that all mankind can enter; the experience of bursting into the world outside the womb, where all is unknown to you and you are helpless. Any of us can enter that; and so we share the emotion with the child.
A fevered baby evokes concern. As their cry vacillates between pain, fear and annoyance, we have indulgence, patience and empathy. Those of us who have gutted out our own illness and fever (which is all of us, except the Superimmune) can identify and relate. There is no problem at all with listening to that cry. As a parent whose children spiked temps of at least 104, I can tell you that cry is a welcome relief at 2 a.m. It means they are still alive and perhaps have the energy to fight the virus off.
Counterpoint. A baby’s cry in the airport, behind you in church, travelling via stroller in the supermarket – just about anywhere that your brain minds being assaulted by noise – garners very little sympathy. We understand that this kind of crying happens. We just feel annoyed it is happening around us. Usually, babies cry in public because they are angry, bored, competing, hungry, tired or innately selfish. Though we all have those emotions, we are not proud of them, and we tend to cover over our own failings by resenting that crying baby.
A baby wailing in a movie theater almost demands violent reactions. Everyone is thinking “What idiot brings their child to a showing of The Avengers?” Instinctively, parents seem to know they are the focal point of vengeance in the theater and they usually clear out as the sniffles turn to shouts. None too soon, as the mob is looking ugly.
When I was six, my brother got lost at an amusement park. He was four. When we later found him, the park attendant hovering over him told us he was brought in by four adults, all of whom were distressed that he couldn’t find his parents. They were moved with compassion at the utter helplessness of a child’s sobs.
I say all of that to make this point: No matter what causes our tears as God’s children, He cares. He may not care the same way with every cry of our heart, but the intensity of his caring never flags.
That comforts and challenges my soul. When others waffle in how they feel about me and my personal struggles, there is One who never changes.